blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

More about Saguenay

A river boat at Chicoutimi awaits the tourist season
Wild amelanchier trees were in bloom on the hillsides and the fields had only just been ploughed; it looked like dry, sandy soil, poor quality. June to mid-October is the manic season when tourism flourishes. The car rental man who picked us up at the airport told me that the first ship of the season, carrying people from Florida, had docked last week, 1800 disembarking. Later this year, especially in September and October, other ships will follow up and down the navigable waters of the Parc Marin du Saguenay-St.Laurent, 1000ft deep in places. They have a desperate need for tourism to succeed in a part of Quebec that's rather too remote for winter attractions, although the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec does advertise long guided hikes on snowshoes through the national parks, with nights in a yurt. That sort of pleasure is only for the dedicated.

Snow on the hills above L'Anse St. Jean, late May
According to the Sépaq, the 3.5km sentier de la statue which we ventured along on Sunday (a trail labelled "difficile") is the most popular of the region's summer trails. It leads from the beach in Baie-Éternité to the summit of Cap Trinité and it was impressive to see how park keepers had laid the steps and bridges for our benefit, like a rock garden 350m high. After passing the 280m point we realised we should have brought something to drink with us if we were going to keep climbing up and down for another couple of hours, and turned back. At the end of the trail is a giant Virgin Mary erected by Charles-Napoléon Robitaille in 1881 after she had saved him from drowning in the icy cold Saguenay a couple of years before. We had no particular desire to pay her close homage though the views down the fjord from there must be magnificent.

St. François-Xavier cathedral
The area is impregnated with Catholicism. Wayside shrines abound, including dozens of larger than life crêche scenes at Rivière Éternité. We lost count of the churches and other religious institutions at Chicoutimi. Even the hospital was adorned with a cross. Until recently, the tradition in Quebec was for the second son from each family of standing to train for the priesthood. (We saw a detention centre too, looking just like the seminaries but with bars on the windows and with the word PRISON carved over the door.) Chris found Radio Galilée on the car radio, a station broadcasting rather fine religious music interspersed with Bible readings and sermons in French or interviews with people who'd seen the Light. As we walked up the main street in Chicoutimi hand in hand one evening, Chris and I were blessed by a passing clergyman.

On the other hand, the World, the Flesh and the Devil obviously put up a fight against the religious message in Chicoutimi where nightclubs, bars and gambling halls abound as well. Even at our (very decent) Hotel du Fjord was a room full of one armed bandits with elderly men playing them at breakfast time on both mornings, a sad sight. We were next to the bus station but didn't see many busses. A Place Centre Ville is currently being constructed at Chicoutimi to link the shopping street, library, city hall, etc. to the waterfront park, which used to be an industrial dockland, by means of a partly covered, vast concourse, an ambitious landscaping project. Rue Racine, the main street (named after a Monseigneur), will then become a pedestrian zone. Our respects to the mayor and city councillors of Chicoutimi for their leadership and vision––good for them!

Attempts to tame the Saguenay River at Jonquière
Another feature worth mentioning is la petite maison blanche, a museum that like everything else including the pleasure boats doesn't open to the public until June. It's a museum on the site of the only building to survive a disaster in 1996 when flash floods destroyed 100 home in Chicoutimi alone. Other communities, such as La Baie and L'Anse St. Jean which we visited at the weekend, were similarly devastated. Before we flew home on Monday we took a last look at the river, upstream from Chicoutimi, as it narrowed and swirled around an island beneath a series of dams, where placards alerted us to the ...courant fort et remous dangereux. Brusque variation du niveau d'eau! Le niveau d'eau peut s'augmenter de façon importante et soudaine, que la sirène se fasse entendre ou non. I pointed out to Chris the apposite use of the French subjunctive in that last warning. As the grammar books would say, there's an element of doubt.

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